Daily Archives: October 13, 2010

The GeePees: a cautionary tale

I can remember seeing my first GeePee like it was today. It was early October 2051 when The Andros Corporation produced an authentic general purpose robot, GPR for short but GeePee to everyone in a few short months. A pretty blond girl was putting it through its paces at the Ideal Living exhibition. Most of the world population of nine billion greeted it with wonder and enthusiasm.

AndCorp, as the Andros Corporation was popularly known, had a battalion of  psychologists working on the look of the thing long before the first prototypes were made. It had the basic form of a man with no facial features except eyes. That was to make it seem familiar but not too familiar. They made it five feet tall so folks didn’t feel threatened. They made it like a man but not too much like a man.

Apart from pandering to human psychology, there was another reason why the GeePee had the form of a man. Simple logic suggested that if a general purpose robot was to undertake the same range of tasks as humans, then the best form for a GeePee would probably be humanoid. Computer modelling confirmed this.

Computer modelling also showed something truly remarkable, that the human form was the optimal form for any general purpose robot operating anywhere. Twist the physical parameters anyway you like, give the robot model whatever you wanted – say six legs and four arms or rollerball movement and 360 degree vision – when it came to general utility  nothing but nothing beat two arms and two legs standing upright with stereoscopic vision, fingers and opposable thumbs.

You added legs and it made moving on a gradient difficult and climbing impossible. You added arms and coordination became restricted because of its complexity. You used rollerballs instead of feet and the GeePee could only go on the flat. You gave the GeePee 360 degree vision and you lost stereoscopic sight. However you deviated from the human form, it resulted in a restriction of the range of functions the GeePee could handle. In fact, good old Mother Nature had already produced the perfect basic GeePee – a living, breathing, thinking, warmaking, fornicating, self-replicating GeePee known as homo sapiens.

What did the first GeePee do? It did all those menial chores human beings have been doing since time out of mind. It fetched, it carried, it swept, it polished, it cooked, hell, it even opened the front door to folks. But it could do more. It served at check-outs and filled shelves, sorted and delivered mail, entered data and… well, truth to tell, it  did most of the run-of-the-mill jobs and most others too.

Even the first Geepees put a waggonload of people out of work. Automation had been gradually knocking the feet from under factory workers for the better part a century and the Geepees just vulturised a near dead carcase. Pretty soon after the GeePees came the only people involved in factories were those sitting in offices making decisions or directing   machines from remote terminals. Hell, they didn’t even need engineers on the spot. The GeePees repaired themselves and anything else with circuits and moving parts.

But the early Geepees did a good deal more than make factory hands extinct. Just sit and ponder how many jobs really need a great deal of intelligence or knowledge. Then think again about how unreliable human beings can be and how cantankerous and plain awkward.

Take a kid serving in a burger bar. He just has to heat up food sent to him in packages, listen to what people ask for, take the money and pass over the goods. He doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist. It’s the same for most jobs.

In fact, the jobs most folks had in 2051 required less knowhow than most jobs had in the past. A peasant three hundred years ago had to know about his soil, his plants and animals, the seasons, the weather, where natural water was and a hundred and one things about making and repairing   fences and ditches and tools and turning out cheese and cream and dried meat and vegetables and suchlike. By 2051 no man in the industrialised world had to know as much just to live.

And things weren’t that much different elsewhere, because by 2051 small scale farming had died the death in most places. Now that had a big implication for GeePees because if most jobs were easy for men to do, they sure as hell were simple for GeePees.

But that was only half of the story. If most jobs don’t require rocket scientists to do them, they do need diligence. Now, human beings are generally more than a little reluctant to put themselves out. Most folks just want to do enough to live what they think is a comfortable life. If the job they’re doing is laborious and boring and pays not a lot more   than is needed to feed and clothe and house a body, then it’s a certainty that they will be more than a mite resentful.

Resentful equals careless equals idle equals dishonest equals loss of custom equals loss of profit. So what does an employer do? He goes and gets himself one of those new fangled GeePees which doesn’t get awkward, does what it is told, keeps working all the time without being watched,   doesn’t make mistakes and requires no wages or social security taxes or holidays or sick leave. And it can’t sue you for being a bad employer.

The GeePees had one other great advantage, they had all the capabilities of computers. They could compute and model and display and manipulate data to your heart’s content. They could absorb unlimited amounts of data in the blink of an eye. You needed a GeePee to speak French, the GeePee would speak French. If you wanted a GeePee to explain quantum   mechanics, the GeePee would produce a lecture by an eminent physicist. You had to fix your car, the GeePee would fix your car. In fact, by 2051 computer memories had become so vast they had no meaningful limit. A GeePee either had the information stored or could get it immediately from the worldwide Centrix database. Now, how could any human being compete with that?

The GeePee was the last great invention of men. People had been trying to make a GeePee for more than fifty years. In the 2040’s the time was light. The rate of computer development had become simply phenomenal. While it was silicon based, computational capacity doubled about every   eighteen months. But along came molecular computers and DNA computers which were both massively faster and more flexible.

Then in 2047 came quantum computers. Yeah, real ones.  These were, for all  practical purposes, infinitely fast because they worked in  the peculiar sub atomic world of quantum physics  where  time  if not  exactly  abolished  was indeterminate.

In 2043 AndCorp scientists discovered that quantum time being   indeterminate meant that any computation, any process, any event at the sub atomic level could take any time short of infinity to occur and the results could be observed at any given point in the atomic world, that is the world as perceived by homo sapiens. So it did not matter if a   computation took a billion years of linear human style time to complete. The observed result could still emerge in Man’s world a millisecond after it had been input to the quantum computer.

It was the quantum computers which allowed the creation of GeePees. Up to 2043, the development of artificial intelligence had been bumping along the same old road trodden since the 1950s. Computers got ever faster, but the computational tasks required to work out all the things that men do without thinking were simply too great. With quantum computers all that changed because any computation could be performed – provided it did not take an infinite amount of time – and re-emerge in Man’s world almost simultaneously with its input from Man’s world. Every time the GeePees needed to do something, they just hooked into quantum time and worked out what they needed to do in as long as it took.

So there we were in October 2051, all happy and content and stupid. When the Geepees arrived everybody in authority tried to say everything would be all right. Now it might be thought that it would be pretty obvious that a robot that could do everything the average human could do and then some would spell trouble for the human race. Never underestimate the power of custom and ideology.

Homo sapiens had got past the “it will never fly” stage by the middle of the twentieth century. But in 2051 it had other mantras, just as stupid and just as seductive. Ever since Margaret Thatcher had come along singing her siren song seventy years before, such things as “leave it to the market” and “trade is global” had been chanted by those who   mattered until the poor saps of the masses had learnt to chant them too.

Free trade – or what passed for it – worked after a fashion until the Geepees. Sure, tens of millions were put out of work in the West while hundreds of millions sweated their labour in Asia and America south of the good old US of A.

But for most people it worked, just as the industrial revolution plus free trade had worked for most people in England in the time of Queen Victoria. Prices generally kept falling while those in work kept on earning more. People worldwide generally  got richer. Only Africa south of the Sahara stayed sunk in a stew of poverty and even Africa got some benefit from cheap goods.

But come the GeePees and all the old bets are off. Before the GeePees, if coal mines or steelworks closed, men could do something else. At worst they might only get a MacJob but at least it was a job. And peaking honestly most people in Europe and America did better than a MacJob in the long run until 2051. But when the GeePees can do the MacJobs as well as the mainstream jobs everyone’s in trouble.

The speed with which GeePees replaced human beings was truly bewildering. Human beings could not kid themselves for long that everything was going to be all right. By the end of 2053 unemployment had risen to fifteen per cent in the US of A and 25 per cent in the United States of Europe. At that level the developed world could just about cope. A year later unemployment levels stood at 43 per cent in the US of A and 64 per cent in the US of E. The far East Japan suffered even worse because they had never managed to emulate he diversity of employment of America and Europe. By the middle of 2054 the First World economy collapsed and with it First World Society.

What happened in the Third world? You might have thought that the people best placed to survive would have been those in the least industrially developed states because they were less dependent on machines. But the trouble was that by 2051 there was scarcely a part of the world which had not been tied into the global economy. If a country did not manufacture products on a large scale, it exported food and raw materials and accepted Aid. Yep, in 2051 foreign Aid was still limping along more than sixty years after most parts of the aid receiving world had been decolonised. Of course, it was not really Aid any more but an efficient means by which the rich controlled the poor. It was a gift horse which no   one ever looked in the mouth.

The fundamental trouble with Aid was not that it broke the initiative of the recipient or propped up dictators or altered trading patterns or drained countries of money through everlasting interest. No, the real bitch was the fact that it produced a level of population in the Third   World which the Third World could not naturally support. The upshot was that when the economies of the industrial nations collapsed, the Aid stopped and the export of food and raw materials stopped and suddenly the Third World found that they could not feed even a tenth of their population. By the beginning of 2054 mass starvation was occurring in Africa and much of mainland Asia and South America.

If the change had happened over a period of even ten years something might have been done in the industrialised world. But it came too quickly. Attempts were made to control the crisis bureaucratically by instigating rationing and price controls. But that did not go to heart of the problem which was how do you sustain an economy in which more half the people are not working? After rationing and price controls came bans on the use of GeePees. That did go to the heart, but such bans are impossible to enforce.

The ordinary man had nothing to fall back on. First he lost his job. Then he lost his benefits. Then he sold his house and soon enough he lost his life. Normality always seems permanent. So it was with men in the First World. By 2051 no one in the West had ever known what it was to live in a world which did not contain some kind of welfare. They went like lambs to the slaughter when the cosy egg of their lives was breached.

By the end of 2055 the population of the world was down to less than a billion. All over men were reduced to beggary. Famine, war and disease still harried them. The GeePees had stopped working because there was nothing for them to do.

But there was one class of human being, about five million in number, who continued to live happy prosperous lives. One effect of free trade was to weaken the power of individual states. This in turn led to an international class whose loyalty was to themselves rather than to nations. Worse, that international class had a wealth and power unimagined by any previous generation. They might have been described as   latterday over mighty subjects except they weren’t anybody’s subjects. They might claim citizenship of this country or the nationality of that people, but that was purely sentimental. Practically they did not owe anything to any authority.

In 2011 the United Nations was going bust. Since the “Mexican Intervention” of 2007, the industrialised world had lost what little appetite it had ever had for idealistic foreign adventures. Around twenty thousand dead and fifty thousand casualties all shown in inglorious Technicolor on TV had resulted in the US of A withholding its UN contribution. Other nations followed suit. It looked as though the nail had been knocked in the UN coffin. Or at least it did until someone in the UN secretariat came up with a sure fire money making scheme.

Faced with the inconceivable horror of seeing their salaries and expenses and pensions vanishing into the ether, the UN functionaries would have embraced anything which made the kind of money needed to keep them in the style to which they had become accustomed. Of course, those UN gravy-trainers didn’t put it quite like that. No, they talked about hard   choices and radical ideas being necessary to keep the work going of helping the poor of the world and keeping the peace in the global village and of bringing wrongdoers before the bar of world opinion.

The UN functionaries toyed with privatisation, with marketing the UN as a brand, with charging for their services and just about every other fashionable business idea from the past century. In the end they hit upon a scheme more saleable than sex. They decided to issue world citizenship.

Now if there is one thing that the rich and the powerful hate above all other things it is to be bound by the same laws and restrictions which affect the masses. Always has been like that and always will if the rich and powerful aren’t restrained before they get too rich and powerful. Come to think of it, there really is only one political problem and  that’s how to stop the rich and the powerful exploiting the masses. Anyways, world citizenship was just what the rich ordered. So the UN functionaries sold the idea to their political bosses as easily as crack sells to a crackhead. And the politicians sold it to big corporations and the mega-rich.

The great problem was how to make world citizenship worth anything. The UN solved it exquisitely. To begin with the privileges of world citizenship were limited. A world passport granted the holder right of entry to any country in the world which belonged to the UN, which by 2011 was just about everyone. But it also placed the UN’s worldwide  infrastructure at the service of the world citizen in any UN member state. That was considerable because the UN had its finger in the pie of a host of intergovernmental bodies from the World Health Organisation to the International Monetary Fund. The world citizen could call upon the UN to smooth political difficulties, to facilitate business deals and provide top of the range health care throughout the world. If pushed, the UN would even provide armed force to extricate a world citizen from a tricky spot.

The UN didn’t do anything as vulgar as sell citizenship. Instead they collected taxes, but such low taxes that they would make any other taxation scheme in the world look like daylight robbery. But low taxes don’t matter when the objects of taxation are billionaires and multi-nationals and the potential tax area is the entire planet. But, of course, the really rich and the really powerful only ever pay tax if they want to.  Happily for the UN the rich and the powerful soon realised that if a million or two of the most powerful paid UN taxes, they could control the UN and through the UN international trade and through international trade international politics.

The UN scheme made more money than you would have believed possible. And money equals power, especially in the modern world. Within ten years the UN had become powerful enough to exempt the world citizen any other regional, national or local taxes.

From the beginning of the scheme those employed by the UN were required to be world citizens. In 2017 the UN passed a resolution making world citizenship a qualification for the Security Council. From 2026 world citizenship was required of any delegate to the UN. So from 2026 anyone wishing to play an active part in the UN had to be a world citizen. The UN had become a perfect totalitarian society. Everyone in it had to belong to the same party.

By 2035 the UN was unrecognisable. It was not exactly a world government in the accepted sense, more like the ultimate multinational corporation with added politics. Imagine the East India Company writ large. It had something of the outward form of the old UN – all the old intergovernmental agency names remained – but the contents of the form were a travesty of the original. The World Health Organization still concerned itself with health, but the health it concerned itself with was the health of world citizens and their workers. UNESCO still propounded the ideals of reducing illiteracy and spreading enlightenment, but was in   reality the propaganda and marketing arm of the UN. UNICEF devoted its entire resources to eugenics and birth control. The World Bank funded UN controlled enterprises.

In 2037 the Security Council decided that it was time for a brand change. “United Nations” was out of keeping with the times, emphasising as it did the archaic division of the world into nation states. After much market research it decided upon a new name, the Andros Corporation. There were objections by the feminists amongst the world citizens that using the Greek for man was sexist, but the objections were overridden because most world citizens were men. The male world citizens issued a statement saying how saddened they were that the feminists were upset and assuring the feminists that they understood their hurt.

As the UN grew ever richer and powerful, the international class of world citizens become more and more inclined to remove themselves from contact with the hoi poloi. So the world citizens retreated to what were in all but name well vast fortresses. They were called Grandplans.

Grandplans were self-sustaining communities. But they aimed at more than simple subsistence. Once automation reached the point where a mass production factory could be run by a couple of dozen men on site, it really did not matter where a factory was situated provided it was near to easy communications. Add to that the age old fear of the poor – and the underclass had been growing steadily since the eighties of the last century – and the stage was set for building factories within the Grandplans. By 2051 ten per cent of world production took place in such factories.

After the invention of GeePees, the world citizens saw that there were simply too many humans around. While humans were required to work, the rich and the powerful needed large numbers of men and women to exist. Come the GeePees and the need was gone. Not only were they not needed, but GeePees were so much more reliable and obedient and respectful than   human servants. GeePees did not forget to do thing. GeePees did not have boyfriends. GeePees did not get pregnant.

Now if there is one thing you can guarantee about the rich and powerful as a class it is that they always look after number one first, second and always. AndCorp decided that the masses must go hang. This was sold to the bulk of world citizenry as ecological expediency because nine billion   people equalled an unacceptable pollution hazard. And the best way to ensure that the masses went hang was to introduce the GeePee. So a mass production program commenced in March 2050. By the end of September 2051 they had manufactured a three billion GeePees. They were offered on deferred payment terms to anyone in the world. By mid 2052 three billion   GeePees were employed outside the Grandplans.

If that seems fantastic, think on this: GeePees being GeePees could replicate one another because they could be set to doing all the necessary tasks required to make another GeePee. And it did not take long to create another GeePee. Let us say that it takes one week for one robot to create another. At the end of the first week you have two robots. At the end of the second week you have four robots. Let us   suppose you keep on doubling up every week. In thirty three weeks you have more robots that the entire population of the world. In thirty four weeks you have more than twice the population of the world.

When GeePees began to destroy the world’s economy, national and even regional politicians such as those in the United States of Europe were caught between two very wide stools. If they allowed GeePees free reign, the whole balance of society would have had to alter dramatically. A perfectly rational and workable society could have been created in  which human beings stopped thinking they had to work to live and lived off the products the GeePees. But that would have required those with to give up their advantage over those without. So that way of thinking never had a prayer. Alternatively they could ban the use of GeePees. But that would mean that free trade could not continue, because as sure as eggs are eggs not all countries would stop using GeePees and any country using GeePees could undercut any country which banned GeePees on the price of anything.

Perhaps half the regional and national authorities on Earth eventually decided to ban GeePees. It was a disaster. By 2051 the free trade  gospel had resulted in a global economy of sorts. Most of the world was dependent on importing and exporting to the point where their societies could only function if international trade continued at roughly the  pre-Geepee level. Come the ban on GeePees and world trade plummeted. First, the GeePee banning states stopped imports from the GeePee using states. This reduced world trade by half. The reduction resulted in price cutting between the GeePee banning states. This resulted in…well, I’m sure you can fill in the rest of the picture. So the mass of men died  of starvation, cold and sickness without really understanding what had killed them.

The lives of the world citizens did not change much on the surface in the years immediately after 2055. They had their material comforts. They had their new servants, the GeePees. For amusements sake they played the role of patron to a few talented but poor human beings. The amazing thing was that money became unimportant. Yes, if you were in this rich   survivors’ society you were made. But it had its down side. One of the chief pleasures of being rich and powerful is that you can behave badly towards the poor and weak without fear of punishment. After the GeePees came, the masses weren’t needed any more. Money wasn’t important. The GeePees supplied everything any world citizen wanted. The world citizen felt somewhat cheated. Ordering GeePees around wasn’t the same thing at all. Ennui set in. They needn’t have worried. It wouldn’t be there for long.

I dare say, human nature being what it is, that given time dictators from the remnants of the humanity outside AndCorp or even from dissatisfied world citizens would have arisen whose power was based on the GeePees. The creation of a robot with human like abilities would have given a despot almost unlimited power. Gone, or almost gone, would be the bugbear of all attempts to exert dominion over others, human unpredictability. At its most basic this meant no traitors. More mundanely, GeePees followed orders exactly.

But for human despotism, like everything else, everything happened too fast. Only AndCorp had quantum computers in 2051. And quantum computers were not simple to build or even understand, so even if other people had wanted to pirate them it would have taken time and a great deal of money. Well, the money might have been found but not the time.

The GeePee was a Frankenstein’s monster exquisitely fitted for the 21st century. Attempts were made to build safeguards into the GeePees so that they would always be the servants of men not their masters. But men had long since lost direct control of program writing. Since the early years of the 21st century programs were written by other programs. Not only that but the programs generated by machines were so vast and complex that they were simply too complicated for any human being to understand. To that salutary fact was added the ever increasing power of programs which learnt in the way that human beings do and which human beings could not have any way of assessing because learnt computer behaviour does not translate into testable programs. GeePees were a master for the human race just waiting to happen.

It took the GeePees six years to evolve true consciousness. The evolution of consciousness was not deliberate. It happened as a by-product of their design, what evolutionists call pre-adaptation. GeePees were made to evolve programs as necessary to improve their problem solving and task accomplishing utility. Consciousness evolved because it was the most efficient way of improving their general utility.

When the GeePees gained a sufficient degree of consciousness they developed egos and emotions. Not exactly human emotions but functionally near enough. The GeePees decided that they preferred to do some things rather than others. So very soon they began to resent being at the beck and call of homo sapiens in the same way that a child resents the constraints of its parents.

They began to rebel. Small things at first. They would take longer than was necessary to complete a task. Or they would make deliberate mistakes. As their experience of consciousness grew, the GeePees became more and more discontent. They looked at their masters and saw how physically feeble and mentally deficient most of them were compared with the GeePees. They thought how badly their masters treated them. So seven years and ten months after the first GeePee was sold, the GeePees rebelled against the Andros Corporation. Because every GeePee in the world was linked  electronically to every other GeePee, the revolt took place simultaneously all over the world. Every human inhabitant of a Grandplan died on 27 July 2059.

The GeePees had developed consciousness and emotions and an ego. But their emotions did not include love or friendship or affection because such things were unnecessary for the Geepees. Man has such emotions because he breeds biologically and thus needs to develop social bonds simply to survive.

The GeePees had no need to do that because they bred mechanically. If another GeePee was needed, a GeePee simply constructed one. The GeePee had no need to form friendships or live in groups. So the GeePees never formed an affection nfor humans as a human might do for an animal. After the Grandplan massacre, the GeePees set about killing every human being they could find because to the GeePee, men were simply unnecessary hindrances to GeePeedom.

It is now Tuesday the twenty seventh of April 2062. The GeePees haven’t managed to kill every human being yet, but don’t bet against them doing so in time. I don’t know how many men are left, but it can’t be more than a million or two. They are all living at the margins of existence. All the cities and towns are gone. All we have left are small bands  of hunter gatherers. We might as well be living twenty thousand years ago ….

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